Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin: the Gileadian 'Aunt' manifested

Welcome to Gilead, Governor Palin

by: Cynthia Boaz, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

In Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, "The Handmaid's Tale," women are confined to a few, limited, gender-based tasks. They are kept in submission by the "Aunts," who reassure them that their subjugation is right. The "Aunts," according to Cynthia Boaz, have a whole lot in common with Sarah Palin. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

If you've ever read Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, "The Handmaid's Tale," you will recall the key role that was played by the women assigned to be the "Aunts." The story revolves around a futuristic American society in which fundamentalist Christians install a gender-based caste system where each woman is assigned a specific societal function. It is a commentary on the dangerous erasing of the line between church and state in the contemporary United States. The merging of religion and government is carried out by a group of older, white male "commanders" whose propaganda demands that citizens be constantly terrorized into submission and obedience. The resulting regime is Atwood's vision of the worst-case scenario: an American police-state theocracy where every woman's identity is reduced to her sexual attributes, and each is assigned to a category based on her physical qualifications. Subtle references to racist philosophy are mixed into the literalist religious rhetoric.

The attractive young women of reproductive age are the "handmaids"; the attractive but infertile middle-age women are the "wives"; the dark-skinned women of any age are domestic servants, and so on. All women are forbidden from reading or writing. The country is renamed the Republic of Gilead, a reference to the biblical homeland of the patriarchs. And the Aunts - who are middle-aged white women of some previous prestige and education - are especially sinister characters. The primary job of the Aunts is to keep the handmaids (the childbearers) subservient. They go about this by convincing the handmaids that they are powerless and can only contribute to society when they fulfill their God-given responsibility to serve the commanders. The Aunts' job, put simply, is to exploit other women by keeping them submissive and telling them that it's for the good of all (and even more insidiously, that in obeying, the handmaids "empower" themselves.) What makes the Aunts so remarkable is their collective failure to realize that they are simply being used by the commanders to keep other women in line, and their willingness - glee, even - at doing so is simultaneously sad and terrifying. So what compels the Aunts to become traitors to both their sex and their country? First, they believe that their contribution to the repressive social order is righteous, and second, they've found that under this rigid system of social control, they have the illusion of a tiny bit of power.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Governor and Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin is the Gileadian "Aunt" manifested. Her sudden emergence onto the American political scene, accompanied by a burst of enthusiasm on the part of many American women, is a surreal example of life imitating art. Much of Palin's rhetoric, tactics and personal philosophy seem to be taken directly from the Auntie training manual. By accepting the position on the GOP ticket despite her astonishing lack of qualifications, Palin signaled that she was prepared to be used - on the basis of her sex alone - in exchange for the promise of status and power. Refer to Palin's RNC convention speech, which was mostly a fawning homage to McCain's patriotism and leadership, sprinkled with condescending references to Obama as "our opponent." Although the lines were delivered with Palin's own folksy vernacular and over-enunciation, it was not Palin, but McCain - or more accurately, the GOP elders at whose feet he finds himself on election eve - who wrote the speech and whose voice echoed through the hall that night in St. Paul. Women who find themselves drawn to Palin because they think she epitomizes the classic "woman who has it all" might want to take a closer look. Sarah Palin was picked for the ticket solely because of - not despite - the fact that she is female. By keeping her sequestered from the media, McCain has confirmed he does not have faith in an unscripted Palin's ability to represent the campaign to the world. By going along with it, Palin is telling us that she's perfectly fine with being controlled by her male superiors. And by portraying herself as the candidate of the empowered woman (while simultaneously promoting policy that is openly hostile to the interests of working and middle-class American women), she reveals the sad truth about how little progress we've actually made.

Lest we think that Senator McCain is hesitant to keep pushing this stereotype in the face of abysmal performances by Palin in news interviews, the most recent reports reveal that his campaign intends to hype the expected wedding between Palin's pregnant daughter and her boyfriend, the date of which is apparently being set just prior to the November election - with McCain and Palin sitting in the front row. Is it possible that Sarah Palin is just blissfully un-self-aware, or is it that she so eager for any illusion of power that she'll allow herself to be marketed no matter what the cost to the dignity of all women? If Palin were truly an empowered woman, she would have refused to allow herself and her daughter to be used in this manner - to assist a party whose rhetoric and imagery promote the ideal woman as deferential to established norms rather than acting as an independent - or critical - thinker. If her selection was intended to signal to American women that empowerment is possible, why is Palin being kept under lock and key? Clearly, this is not an individual whose intelligence or perspective McCain respects, or else he would permit her to speak for herself. To continue pretending that Palin's selection was anything other than an attempt to manipulate the voting public on the basis of a straitjacketed view of sexual roles is a dangerous lie that no American of any gender can afford to abide.


Cynthia Boaz is assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University.

Debunked Heroine: Sherry Jones

September 30, 2008
Posted: 914 GMT

LONDON, ENGLAND — “On hell’s door.” That’s where an American author and her British publisher were told they would find themselves if they dared print their historical piece of fiction entitled “The Jewel of Medina.”

Apparently it’s not just a figure of speech. On Saturday evening on a quiet square in London, a tidy fire bomb was squeezed through the mail slot of a substantial door. The building is both the home and office of Martin Rynja and his Gibson Square publishing company who have just agreed to publish “The Jewel of Medina.”

Little did the would-be terrorists know that Scotland Yard was keeping an eye on the house and warned Rynja to leave just the night before.

Three men were promptly arrested on the suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

American author Sherry Jones is adamant that in writing her fictional account of the Prophet Mohammed’s youngest wife, Aisha, she meant no disrespect to Islam. Jones contends the book is meant to be a tribute to the courage and modern resonance of a little girl who was said to be Mohammed’s wife at the age of nine.

Most have never cracked the spine of this book and yet it is speaking volumes to both sides in the freedom of speech debate, a debate that almost 20 years to the day is still haunting Salman Rushdie after the 1988 publication of his book, “The Satanic Verses.”

Jones says it was actually Random House Publishing that jumpstarted this controversy. Random House was to publish her book in the UK but pulled out citing “security concerns.” That’s when Rynja and his Gibson Square publishing company stepped in to say it would indeed put “The Jewel of Medina” on European bookshelves. And then someone pitches a firebomb at his house.

Anjem Choudary is a longtime critic of what he calls the blanket protection of free speech, especially when it offends Islam.

“I’m not going to blame people who are reacting towards provocation. I think we need to deal with the root cause of all of this problem which is people gratuitously attacking Islam and Muslims and we should learn the lessons of Salman Rushdie,” he says.

Just to make sure I heard him right, I asked Choudary if he was saying that the author’s life was in danger if she dared publish her book.

“I think certainly, you know there will be consequences for her,” he said, reading the shock on my face and adding: “Well, would you just prefer that I remain silent? And then someone just you know firebombed some more houses and some more publishing places and you find blood on the streets of London? Is that a wise thing to do? I think it’s better for us to come out and tell you ‘look, this is what the Islamic verdict is.’”

Shelina Zahra is no opponent of free speech, she and her blog, www.spirit21.co.uk, thrive on the cut and thrust of earnest, intelligent debate. But she too has reservations about the tone and content of the book.

“I think the book raises the same big question again — where does freedom of speech end, and sheer good manners and etiquette begin? And it’s a conversation that is constantly at cross purposes, because the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Muslims simply state generically, if we find it so upsetting, why do you keep publishing this stuff? Are you out deliberately to provoke?”

Zehra says although she has not read the entire book, it certainly falls short of scholarly pursuit. And she asks openly, what is the purpose of publishing such a work?

“I think Muslims are not saying anything about freedom of speech but actually legitimately calling a public debate on whether the concept of freedom of speech has blanket applicability, no questions asked, or needs to have a worthy cause which trumps social harmony and social cohesion.” says Zehra.

And yet she says there would be nothing gained by calling for the book’s censorship, save perhaps big sales for the author and publisher as the “controversy” is played up in the media.

This story is still simmering, so watch this space. We are still hoping to get comments from both Sherry Jones and her would-be publisher.

In the meantime, what do you think? We want to hear from you.

Heroine: Tina Fey

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Heroine: Malalai Kakar

KABUL, Afghanistan — In an attack claimed by the Taliban, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Afghanistan’s most high-profile female police officer on Sunday as she prepared to leave for work in the southern city of Kandahar. The police in the city said she died instantly from gunshot wounds to her head. Her 18-year-old son, driving her car, was seriously wounded and taken to the hospital.

The police officer, Malalai Kakar, who was in her mid-forties with six children, was an iconic figure among women’s groups in Afghanistan and abroad. Often profiled in the Afghan and foreign news media, she was one of the leading totems for the wider freedoms gained by women when the Taliban, with their repressive policies toward women, were ousted from power by an American-led coalition in 2001.

The attack was the latest in a wave of attacks on women across Afghanistan for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility. After scattering in the wake of the 2001 offensive, the Islamic militants have regrouped over the past two years, mounting a new offensive across wide areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan. Attacks on women, girls’ schools and organizations working for women’s advancement have become increasingly common.

“We killed Malalai Kakar,” a Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, told the Agence France-Presse news agency in a telephone call. “She was our target, and we successfully eliminated our target.”

Ms. Kakar, with the rank of captain, was head of Kandahar’s department of crimes against women, heading about 10 female officers, and spent her working life tackling theft, domestic violence and murders. She joined the police in the city in 1982, following in the footsteps of her father and brothers, but was forced out after the Taliban captured Kandahar in the mid-1990s and banned all women from working.

She was the first female police officer in the country to return to work after the Taliban were ousted.

Her killing prompted a wave of tributes. President Hamid Karzai, on a trip to the United States, issued a statement calling the attack “an act of cowardice” committed by “enemies of peace and welfare and reconstruction of Afghanistan.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul, responsible for the country’s 80,000-strong police, about 700 of them women, called Ms. Kakar “a brave hero among women and loyal to her profession,” and said she had been “cowardly martyred.”

The police commander in Kandahar, Matiullah Qati, said Ms. Kakar had continued working despite repeated death threats. “She took a big risk by continuing to work in the current serious situation, and her death will undoubtedly have a negative impact on other women who may have wanted to join the police but now may not dare to,” he said.

The European Union’s mission in Kabul said it was “appalled by the brutal targeting” of the police officer, and added: “Any murder of a police officer is to be condemned, but the killing of a female officer whose service was not only to her country, but to Afghan women, to whom Ms. Kakar served as an example, is particularly abhorrent.”

Read original NY Times article here

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Heroine: Shada (Shatha) Nasser

  • Story Highlights
  • Yemeni lawyer Shada Nasser helped a 10-year-old divorce her 30-year-old husband
  • Since then, Nasser has volunteered to help other young brides
  • She is also working to raise Yemen's legal age of marriage
  • In some regions of the country, 8- and 10-year-old brides are the norm

(CNN) -- "When I got married I was scared," remembers 10-year-old Nujood Ali. "I didn't want to leave my family and siblings."

Yemeni lawyer Shada Nasser helped 10-year-old Nujood Ali divorce her 30-year-old husband.

Yemeni lawyer Shada Nasser helped 10-year-old Nujood Ali divorce her 30-year-old husband.

At an age when girls in the West still play with dolls, Nujood found herself married to a man three times her age. But in her home country of Yemen -- a deeply conservative Middle East Muslim nation -- this situation isn't uncommon.

Yemeni lawyer Shada Nasser had long opposed the practice of early marriage when, in April 2008, she got a chance to do something about it.

Arriving at the courthouse for her usual casework one day, Nasser was told about a young girl who had come to court alone. She met Nujood, who told her that she was desperate; she wanted a divorce.

Nasser says she was appalled by Nujood's story, particularly her claims that her 30-year-old husband regularly beat and raped her. It was unheard of for such a young girl to get a divorce, but Nasser didn't hesitate to take the case.

"When I spoke with her, I [felt] like she [was] my daughter," Nasser recalls. "I hugged her and said, 'Don't be afraid. I will help you and you will take the divorce.'"

Since then, Nasser has volunteered to help other young brides, and is working to raise the legal age for marriage in Yemen.

As a lawyer and activist, Nasser has always promoted the rights of women and children. Born in the progressive southern region of Yemen, she was raised in an affluent family. She graduated from law school in 1990 in Prague, which was then part of Czechoslovakia.

Her father, a journalist and union organizer, died when she was young, but Nasser inherited his crusading instincts and has spent much of her career challenging the status quo.

Among the first female lawyers in the capital city of Sanaa, Nasser has defended several women who she believes were wrongfully accused of crimes.

"I believe in being a lawyer to help people," she says.

By striving to end early marriage, Nasser is challenging a custom that's been part of Yemeni culture for centuries. Extreme poverty leads some parents to marry off their daughters, while others do it to protect the girls from spinsterhood, or from potentially shaming the family by getting involved with a man out of wedlock. Some find justification in the Quran.

Sanaa University's Woman and Development Study Center found that more than 50 percent of Yemeni women are married before they are 18; in some regions, 8- and 10-year-old brides are the norm.

The 1992 law that set Yemen's marriage age at 15 was later amended to allow even younger girls to wed with parental approval. However, they are not supposed to have sexual relations until they are "mature," a stipulation that's difficult to enforce.

When Nujood's parents agreed for her to be married, they believed they were putting her in the care of her husband's family.

Nujood's father, Ali Mohammed Ahdal, is angry about what the man did to his daughter. "He was a criminal, a criminal. He did hateful things to her," he said. "He didn't keep his promise to me that he wouldn't go near her until she was 20."

Specialists believe that young girls giving birth at an early age has contributed to Yemen having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

After Nasser took Nujood's case, reporters packed the courtroom. When the judge dissolved the marriage, the story made headlines around the world. Sharia law dictated that Nujood pay her husband more than $200, which was covered by donations. Video Watch Nujood and Nasser tell their story »

Now happily back home with her family, Nujood hopes to become a journalist, and says she never wants to get remarried. Reflecting on her experience, she shows a maturity beyond her 10 years.

"I did this so that people listen and think to not marry girls so young," Nujood says. "Like what happened to me." Video Watch Nasser explain how Nujood has become a symbol for girls in Yemen »

Nujood's case sparked a nationwide debate about the marriage age; Nasser and others hope to raise it to 18. Having already been contacted by other child brides, she's vowed to help as many of them as she can, for free.
"I and Nujood, we opened this big window for all other girls," Nasser says. "Nujood's case is going to change a lot of things, and will better the lives of hundreds of young girls who live in the countryside."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Heroine: Agnès Humbert

By Barbara Mellor
Translator of Resistance: Memoirs of Occupied France

Notre Guerre, Souvenirs de Résistance, Agnès Humbert, 1946. The listing on French eBay didn't give much clue as to the treasure that lay in store.
Agnes Humbert 1930s
Agnes Humbert's secret journal was first published in 1946

Neither title nor author meant anything to me. But a memoir of the French Resistance published so soon after the war and - most intriguingly - written by a woman, might be worth a couple of euros.

When it arrived, Notre Guerre - its evocative cream-coloured cover darkened with age, its blotting-paper pages roughly cut - exhaled the atmosphere of wartime Paris. There was no preamble, no introduction. As I started to read, I was plunged directly into the Parisians' agonized anticipation of the arrival of the German army in their beloved city in June 1940.

Humbert's journal sent shivers down my spine. The powerful immediacy of the narrative, the raw intensity of the subject matter, the compelling presence of Humbert herself - all were overwhelming, electrifying.

With her artist's eye, her self-deprecating humour, her talent for spotting the absurd and her palpable sense of outrage, Humbert was an irresistible companion

But who was Agnès Humbert?

A respected middle-aged art historian at one of Paris's most illustrious museums, Agnès Humbert was an unlikely candidate for Resistance heroism. But amid the chaos and bitter ignominy of defeat her soul rebelled ("I feel I will go mad, literally, if I don't do something!").

Her character leapt off the page: impetuous, pugnacious, fiercely intelligent and irreverent, with an indomitable sense of humour, moral passion and integrity that would never desert her throughout the ordeal that awaited her. This was the woman, after all, who (I learned from her fellow résistants) would distribute incendiary tracts in the streets of Paris from supplies stuffed down her stocking tops, who would delight in making Vive de Gaulle stickers to paste on the back of German military vehicles.

With her artist's eye, her self-deprecating humour, her talent for spotting the absurd and her palpable sense of outrage, Humbert was an irresistible companion, who offered a riveting day-by-day account of the genesis of the Resistance.

That stifling summer, in a leap of blind faith and reckless courage, she and a handful of her distinguished colleagues at the Musée de l'Homme - eminent ethnographers and Egyptologists, linguists and librarians - formed what was almost certainly the very first organized Resistance group.

Hitler and generals stroll in Paris in June 1940
The Gestapo came for Humbert at her sick and elderly mother's hospital bedside

It was as though the upper echelons of the British Museum had turned to new careers as urban guerrillas and saboteurs. In those desperate early days, they could not have known that their unlikely little group would become the nucleus of a great movement; that one of their number would rise to work at De Gaulle's right hand; and that plans they passed to British intelligence would contribute to the strategically crucial raid on the U-boat base at Saint Nazaire in 1942.

By that time, it turned out, they had also recruited a double agent who would betray them to the Gestapo.

Its leaders arrested one by one, the Musée de l'Homme network was to earn a tragic place in history. The Gestapo came for Humbert at her sick and elderly mother's hospital bedside.

Soup kitchens

After a year of brutal imprisonment and interrogations, the group was tried before a military court. The seven men were condemned to death by firing squad; the women had their death sentences commuted to slave labour in Germany.

So for Humbert there began three years of slavery for the German war machine, a little-documented nightmare dubbed 'the other Holocaust'.

Long-awaited liberation at last arrived in the form of an advance unit of the American Third Army. Exhilaration was rapidly spiced with exasperation. Faced with the incomprehension of American officers (not noted, as she observed drily, for their political acumen) and the cowering inertia of the local German population, Agnès threw off her shackles to set up first-aid posts and soup kitchens for the armies of the dispossessed - including, at her express insistence, German civilians.

Agnes Humber
Humbert continued to write books on art until her death in 1963

Furthermore, through her own indefatigable efforts she set up an embryonic denazification process on the one hand, while on the other arguing stoutly that indiscriminate persecution of the Germans would only encourage the rise of 'another Hitler'.

Generous as ever in her recognition of the human values for which she was prepared to lay down her life, on publication of her journal in May 1946 she sent a copy to the conspicuously fair Wehrmacht officer who had presided over the Musée de l'Homme trial, inscribing it to him 'without rancour'.

Barbara Mellor is the translator of Agnes Humbert's memoirs which are published as Resistance: Memoirs of Occupied France by Bloomsbury.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heroine: Somaly Mam

Published: September 25, 2008
Sex trafficking is widely acknowledged to be the 21st-century version of slavery, but governments accept it partly because it seems to defy solution.

World leaders are parading through New York this week for a United Nations General Assembly reviewing their (lack of) progress in fighting global poverty. That’s urgent and necessary, but what they aren’t talking enough about is one of the grimmest of all manifestations of poverty — sex trafficking.

This is widely acknowledged to be the 21st-century version of slavery, but governments accept it partly because it seems to defy solution. Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. It exists in all countries, and if some teenage girls are imprisoned in brothels until they die of AIDS, that is seen as tragic but inevitable.

The perfect counterpoint to that fatalism is Somaly Mam, one of the bravest and boldest of those foreign visitors pouring into New York City this month. Somaly is a Cambodian who as a young teenager was sold to the brothels herself and now runs an organization that extricates girls from forced prostitution.

Now Somaly has published her inspiring memoir, “The Road of Lost Innocence,” in the United States, and it offers some lessons for tackling the broader problem.

In the past when I’ve seen Somaly and her team in Cambodia, I frankly didn’t figure that she would survive this long. Gangsters who run the brothels have held a gun to her head, and seeing that they could not intimidate Somaly with their threats, they found another way to hurt her: They kidnapped and brutalized her 14-year-old daughter.

Three years ago, I wrote from Cambodia about a raid Somaly organized on the Chai Hour II brothel where more than 200 girls had been imprisoned. Girls rescued from the brothel were taken to Somaly’s shelter, but the next day gangsters raided the shelter, kidnapped the girls and took them right back to the brothel.

Yet Somaly continued her fight, and, with the help of many others, she has registered real progress. Today, she says, the Chai Hour II brothel is shuttered. In large part, so is the Svay Pak brothel area where 12-year-old girls were openly for sale on my first visit.

“If you want to buy a virgin, it’s not easy now,” notes Somaly, speaking in English — her fifth language.

Read the full article here

Monday, September 22, 2008

CNN: Palin's town charged women for rape exams

Story Highlights
  • While Sarah Palin was mayor, Wasilla charged victims for their rape exams
  • Interviews, review of records show no evidence Palin knew victims were charged
  • Former state representative says it seems unlikely Palin was not aware of issue
Read original article here

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNN) -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's hometown required women to pay for their own rape examinations while she was mayor, a practice her police chief fought to keep as late as 2000.

Former state Rep. Eric Croft, a Democrat, sponsored a state law requiring cities to provide the examinations free of charge to victims. He said the only ongoing resistance he met was from Wasilla, where Palin was mayor from 1996 to 2002.

"It was one of those things everyone could agree on except Wasilla," Croft told CNN. "We couldn't convince the chief of police to stop charging them."

Alaska's Legislature in 2000 banned the practice of charging women for rape exam kits -- which experts said could cost up to $1,000.

Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, often talks about her experience running Wasilla, population approximately 7,000, and that has prompted close scrutiny of her record there. Wasilla's practice of charging victims for their rape exams while she was mayor has gotten wide circulation on the Internet and in the mainstream media. Video Watch CNN's Jessica Yellin check the facts in Wasilla »

Some supporters of Palin say they believe she had no knowledge of the practice. But critics call it "outrageous" and question Palin's commitment to helping women who are the victims of violence.

For years, Alaska has had the worst record of any state in rape and in murder of women by men. The rape rate in Alaska is 2.5 times the national average.

Interviews and a review of records turned up no evidence that Palin knew that rape victims were being charged in her town. But Croft, the former state representative who sponsored the law changing the practice, says it seems unlikely Palin was not aware of the issue.
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"I find it hard to believe that for six months a small town, a police chief, would lead the fight against a statewide piece of legislation receiving unanimous support and the mayor not know about it," Croft said.

During the time Palin was mayor of Wasilla, her city was not the only one in Alaska charging rape victims. Experts testified before the Legislature that in a handful of small cities across Alaska, law enforcement agencies were charging victims or their insurance "more than sporadically."

One woman who wrote in support of the legislation says she was charged for her rape exam by a police department in the city of Juneau, which is hundreds of miles from Wasilla.

But Wasilla stood out. Tara Henry, a forensic nurse who has been treating rape victims across Alaska for the last 12 years, told CNN that opposition to Croft's bill from Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon was memorable.

"Several municipal law enforcement agencies in the state did have trouble budgeting and paying for the evidence collection for sexual assault victims," Henry said. "What I recall is that the chief of police in the Wasilla police department seemed to be the most vocal about how it was going to affect their budget."

Croft has a similar memory. He said victims' advocates suggested he introduce legislation as a way to shame cities into changing their practice, and Wasilla resisted.

"I remember they had continued opposition," Croft said. "It was eight years ago now, but they were sort of unrepentant that they thought the taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for that."

He does not recall discussing the issue with then-Mayor Palin.

The bill, HB270, was before the legislature for six months. In testimony, one expert called the practice of billing the victim "incomprehensible." Others compared it to "dust[ing] for fingerprints" after a burglary, only "the victim's body is the crime scene."

During a rape exam, the victim removes her clothing and a medical professional gathers DNA evidence from her body. There is also a medical component to assess her injuries. That component has led some law enforcement agencies to balk at paying.

Henry, the forensic nurse, said charging victims "retraumatizes them."

"Asking them to pay for something law enforcement needs in order to investigate their case, it's almost like blaming them for getting sexually assaulted," she said.

The Alaska Legislature agreed. The bill passed unanimously with the support of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, the Alaska Peace Officers Association and more than two dozen co-sponsors.

After it became law, Wasilla's police chief told the local paper, The Frontiersman, that it would cost the city $5,000 to $14,000 a year -- money that he'd have to find.

"In the past, we've charged the cost of the exams to the victim's insurance company when possible," Fannon was quoted as saying. "I just don't want to see any more burden on the taxpayer."

He suggested the criminals should pay as restitution if and when they're convicted. Repeated attempts to reach Fannon for comment were unsuccessful.

Judy Patrick, who was Palin's deputy mayor and friend, blames the state.

"The bigger picture of what was going on at the time was that the state was trying to cut their own budget, and one of the things that they were doing was passing on costs to cities, and that was one of the many things that they were passing on, the cost to the city," said Patrick, who recalls enormous pressure to keep the city's budget down.

But the state was never responsible for paying the costs of local investigations. Patrick was also a member of Wasilla City Council, and she doesn't recall the issue coming before council members, nor does she remember discussing the issue with Palin.

She does recall Palin going through the budget in detail. She said Palin would review each department's budget line by line and send it back to department heads with her changes.

"Sarah is a fiscal conservative, and so she had seen that the city was heading in a direction of bigger projects, costing taxpayers more money, and she was determined to change that," Patrick said.

Before Palin came to City Hall, the Wasilla Police Department paid for rape kits out of a fund for miscellaneous costs, according to the police chief who preceded Fannon and was fired by Palin. That budget line was cut by more than half during Palin's tenure, but it did not specifically mention rape exams.

In a statement, Jill Hazelbaker, communications director for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, said that "to imply that Gov. Palin is or has ever been an advocate of charging victims for evidence gathering kits is an utter distortion of reality."

"As her record shows, Gov. Palin is committed to supporting victims and bringing violent criminals to justice," Hazelbaker said. "She does not, nor has she ever believed that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence gathering test."

Those who fought the policy are unconvinced.

"It's incomprehensible to me that this could be a rogue police chief and not a policy decision. It lasted too long and it was too high-profile," Croft said.

The rape kit charges have become an issue among Palin critics who say as governor she has not done enough to combat Alaska's epidemic problem of violence against women. They point to a small funding increase for domestic violence shelters at a time when Alaska has a multibillion-dollar budget surplus. Victims' advocates say that services are lacking and that Palin cut funding for a number of programs that treat female victims of violence.

In the past week, Alaska's challenges with sexual assault have been in the spotlight again -- in connection with an ongoing inquiry into whether Palin abused her power by firing the head of Alaska's Department of Public Safety. Palin's office released e-mails showing that one area of disagreement between her and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was his lobbying in Washington for $30 million to fund a new program of sexual assault response teams.

The McCain-Palin campaign insists that fighting domestic violence and sexual assault are priorities for Palin. And they say she has been looking at other programs to support. As governor, Palin approved a funding increase for domestic violence shelters -- $266,200 over two years. And she reauthorized a Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Call for Papers

Massachusetts Dartmouth, 9-10 October 2009

Conference organizers: Anna M. Klobucka (UMass Dartmouth),
Hilary Owen(U of Manchester)

Associate organizer: Gina M. Reis (UMass Dartmouth)

Keynote speakers: Leela Gandhi (U of Chicago), Anne McClintock
(U of Wisconsin-Madison)

Confirmed participants: Miguel Vale de Almeida (ISCTE), Ana Paula
Ferreira (U of Minnesota), James Green (Brown U), Laura
Cavalcante Padilha (UFF), Maria Irene Ramalho (U de Coimbra)

The organizers invite paper proposals bringing gender analysis to
bear on any aspects of the former Portuguese empire and
postcolonial Luso-Afro-Brazilian literatures, cultures and
communities. Please send 300-word abstracts; brief CVs to and
by April 15, 2009.

Anna M. Klobucka
Department of Portuguese
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
N. Dartmouth, MA 02747
phone: 508-999-8241
fax: 508-910-6205

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Seeing Past the Slave to Study the Person

Published: September 20, 2008
In “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” Annette Gordon-Reed follows four generations of Sally Hemings’s relatives.

H R Clinton on health care for women

Published: September 19, 2008
The Bush administration wants to undermine women’s rights and women’s health by placing ideology ahead of science.

NY Times: "Lipstick Bungle"

Published: September 19, 2008
Read original article here

Support for Sarah Palin among Republicans seems just as superficial as she is. When asked why they liked her, the answers described a talk-show host, not a vice president.

Mr. McCain, on Monday you repeated your delusional notion that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. Now, the federal government is working on a deal to save that economy from collapsing. You have admitted that the economy is not your forte, so you could have used a running mate with some financial chops. (Remember Mitt Romney?)

But no. Who did you pick? SnowJob SquareGlasses whose financial credentials include running Wasilla into debt, listing (but not selling) a plane on EBay and flip-flopping on a bridge to wherever. In fact, when it comes to real issues in general, she may prove to be a liability.

In what respect, you may ask?

It turns out that the Republican enthusiasm for Sarah Palin is just as superficial as she is. They were so eager for someone to cheer for (because they really don’t like you) that they dove face first into the Palin mirage. But, on the issues, even they worry about her.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted this week 77 percent of Republicans said that they had a favorable opinion of Palin. But when asked what specifically they liked about her, their top five reasons were that she was honest, tough, caring, outspoken and fresh-faced. Sounds like a talk-show host, not a vice president. (By the way, her intelligence was in a three-way tie for eighth place, right behind “I just like her.”)

When those Republicans were asked what they liked least about her, they started to sound more like everyone else. Aside from those who said that there was nothing they didn’t like, next on the list were: her lack of experience, her record as governor and her lack of foreign-policy experience.

Also, most Republicans think you only picked her to help with the election, not because she is qualified, and a third said that they would be “concerned” if for some reason she actually had to serve as president.

And Palin is proving to be just as vacant as people suspected. In her interview with Charles Gibson last week, she didn’t know what the Bush doctrine was. At your first joint town hall meeting with her in Michigan on Wednesday, in front of an invitation-only crowd of Republicans no less, she dodged substantive questions about the issues as if they were sniper fire, while issuing a faux challenge to the audience to play a game of “stump the candidate”. Seriously?

Many of your supporters will no doubt cry sexism. Fine with me. But that defense rings hollow. I find many of them to be sexist. Fresh-faced? Delegates on the floor of the Republican National Convention wearing buttons like “Hoosiers for the hot chick”?


Friday, September 19, 2008

Saudi Women Find an Unlikely Role Model: Oprah

NY Times - Dammam Journal
Published: September 19, 2008
Many women in Saudi Arabia feel a bond with Oprah Winfrey, who speaks about topics rarely aired there.

Here's an excerpt:

“I feel that Oprah truly understands me,” said Nayla, who, like many of the women interviewed, would not let her full name be used. “She gives me energy and hope for my life. Sometimes I think that she is the only person in the world who knows how I feel.”

Nayla is not the only Saudi woman to feel a special connection to the American media mogul. When “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was first broadcast in Saudi Arabia in November 2004 on a Dubai-based satellite channel, it became an immediate sensation among young Saudi women. Within months, it had become the highest-rated English-language program among women 25 and younger, an age group that makes up about a third of Saudi Arabia’s population.

In a country where the sexes are rigorously separated, where topics like sex and race are rarely discussed openly and where a strict code of public morality is enforced by religious police called hai’a, Ms. Winfrey provides many young Saudi women with new ways of thinking about the way local taboos affect their lives — as well as about a variety of issues including childhood sexual abuse and coping with marital strife — without striking them, or Saudi Arabia’s ruling authorities, as subversive.

Read the article in full here

Moment of Zen

Caroline Baum on Fox & Friends

Bloomberg News columnist Caroline Baum believes the issues are more important than whether a candidate is a man or woman.

Palin Can Launch Us Back in Time

Janis L. Karpinski, Truthout: "Hmmmmm. My intuition is kicking into high gear on the nomination of Sarah Palin as vice president on the Republican ticket. Hmmmmm. It is haunting me. There is something sneaky behind her and me thinks it is the devious orchestration of Karl Rove. Months of criticism for Barack Obama's allegedly short supply of expertise, then McCain selects a true novice as a partner on his ticket. Does this make any sense at all?"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Women's Rights Groups Endorse Obama for President

Ann Sanner, The Associated Press: "Women's rights groups endorsed Barack Obama for president Tuesday, asserting the historic selection of a female Republican vice-presidential candidate does not make up for John McCain's lack of support on issues important to women."

Women in Politics

NOW: "Given the hoopla surrounding Sarah Palin's and Hillary Clinton's historical political ascendance, why does the US rank so low among countries for percentage of women holding national office?"

Women of Alaska rally against Palin

From Alaska
Click on photo to see slideshow

[The] Alaska Women Reject Palin rally was to be held outside on the lawn in front of the Loussac Library in midtown Anchorage . Home made signs were encouraged, and the idea was to make a statement that Sarah Palin does not speak for all Alaska women, or men. I had no idea what to expect.

The rally was organized by a small group of women, talking over coffee. It made me wonder what other things have started with small groups of women talking over coffee. It's probably an impressive list. These women hatched the plan, printed up flyers, posted them around town, and sent notices to local media outlets. One of those media outlets was KBYR radio, home of Eddie Burke, a long-time uber-conservative Anchorage talk show host. Turns out that Eddie Burke not only announced the rally, but called the people who p! lanned t o attend the rally "a bunch of socialist baby-killing maggots," and read the home phone numbers of the organizers aloud over the air, urging listeners to call and tell them what they thought. The women, of course, received some nasty, harassing and threatening messages.

I felt a bit apprehensive. I'd been disappointed before by the turnout at other rallies. Basically, in Anchorage , if you can get 25 people to show up at an event, it's a success. So, I thought to myself, if we can actually get 100 people there that aren't sent by Eddie Burke, we'll be doing good. A real statement will have been made. I confess, I still had a mental image of 15 demonstrators surrounded by hundreds of menacing "socialist baby-killing maggot" haters.

It's a good thing I wasn't tailgating when I saw the crowd in front of the library or I would have ended up in somebody's trunk. When I got there, about 20 minutes early, the line of sign wavers stretched the full length of the library grounds, along the edge of the road, 6 or 7 people deep! I could hardly find a place to park. I nabbed one of the last spots in the library lot, and as I got out of the car and started walking, people seemed to join in from every direction, carrying signs.

Never, have I seen anything like it in my 17 and a half years living in Anchorage. The organizers had someone walk the rally with a counter, and they clicked off well over 1400 people (not including the 90 counter-demonstrators). This was the biggest political rally ever, in the history of the state. I was absolutely stunned. The second most amazing thing is how many people honked and gave the thumbs up as they drove by. And even those that didn't honk looked wide-eyed and awe-struck at the huge crowd that was growing by the minute. This just doesn't happen here.

Then, the infamous Eddie Burke showed up. He tried to talk to the media, and was instantly surrounded by a group of 20 people who started shouting O-BA-MA so loud he couldn't be heard. Then passing cars started honking in a rhythmic pattern of 3, like the Obama chant, while the crowd cheered, hooted and waved their signs high.

So, if you've been doing the math… Yes. The Alaska Women Reject Palin rally was significantly bigger than Palin's rally that got all the national media coverage! So take heart, sit back, and enjoy the photo gallery. Feel free to spread the pictures around to anyone who needs to know that Sarah Palin most definitely does not speak for all Alaskans. The citizens of Alaska , who know her best, have things to say.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BBC: Tough choices for Eritrea's Three Sisters

Life on the Edge: Eritrea's Three Sisters

By Steve Bradshaw
Executive Producer, Life on the Edge

Twenty-two-year-old Leyla is about to celebrate her daughter Menal's first birthday. She will have to decide whether the celebrations should also include Menal's circumcision.

Although her family are taking it calmly, Leyla's actually wondering whether to call it off.

Leyla has only had two children. But Amina, who is 35, has had six. Now she is pregnant again and has to decide whether to have her seventh at home.

The alternative, as Amina sees it, is to take a big risk and trust a new local hospital.

Howa has an easier decision to make - but not as simple as you might think.

Eritrean baby, Menal
Menal's mother must decide if she will have her daughter circumcised
She is being offered a hectare of land in a government scheme supported by the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The land would help Howa feed her four children, who she is bringing up on her own.

The trouble is that local custom dictates women should not plough the land and, without ploughing, it is hard to see how she would have any crops.

Leyla, Amina and Howa live in Eritrea's Gash Barka - a vast drought-prone region and a rarely filmed corner of the Horn of Africa.

Our three sisters do not know each other, but they do have a friend in common - Belainesh Seyoum, of the National Union of Eritrean Women.

Read article in full here

A hilarious take on a serious subject

Friday, September 12, 2008

Forbes: World's 100 Most Powerful Women

Special Report
The World's 100 Most Powerful Women
Edited by Mary Ellen Egan and Chana R. Schoenberger 08.27.08, 6:00 PM ET

Our annual ranking of the most powerful women in the world measures "power" as a composite of public profile--calculated using press mentions--and financial heft. The economic component of the ranking considers job title and past career accomplishments, as well as the amount of money the woman controls.

A chief executive "controls" the revenue of her business, for instance, while a head of state gets the country's gross domestic product. The raw numbers are modified to allow comparisons across financial realms.

For the third year running Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, is the world's most powerful woman. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (overall rank: 28) is the woman with the highest public profile, resulting from the intense media scrutiny of her failed presidential bid.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Camille Paglia's take on Obama/McCain/Palin

Sept. 10, 2008 | Rip tide! Is the Obama campaign shooting out to sea like a paper boat?

It's heavy weather for Obama fans, as momentum has suddenly shifted to John McCain -- that hoary, barnacle-encrusted tub that many Democrats like me had thought was full of holes and swirling to its doom in the inky depths of Republican incoherence and fratricide. Gee whilikers, the McCain vampire just won't die! Hit him with a hammer, and he explodes like a jellyfish into a hundred hungry pieces.

Oh, the sadomasochistic tedium of McCain's imprisonment in Hanoi being told over and over and over again at the Republican convention. Do McCain's credentials for the White House really consist only of that horrific ordeal? Americans owe every heroic, wounded veteran an incalculable debt of gratitude, but how do McCain's sufferings in a tiny, squalid cell 40 years ago logically translate into presidential aptitude in the 21st century? Cast him a statue or slap his name on a ship, and let's turn the damned page.

Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.

In the U.S., the ultimate glass ceiling has been fiendishly complicated for women by the unique peculiarity that our president must also serve as commander in chief of the armed forces. Women have risen to the top in other countries by securing the leadership of their parties and then being routinely promoted to prime minister when that party won at the polls. But a woman candidate for president of the U.S. must show a potential capacity for military affairs and decision-making. Our president also symbolically represents the entire history of the nation -- a half-mystical role often filled elsewhere by a revered if politically powerless monarch.

read the article in full here

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Meanwhile, women are immolating themselves in Afghanistan

Terror of a Different Kind


by: Nushin Arbabzadah, The Guardian UK

An afghan woman shows the scars that she received after setting herself on fire. She did so in protest to a forced-marriage arrangement. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

Across Afghanistan, women are setting fire to themselves. What drives them to this level of desperation?

When Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc set fire to himself at a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963, few of the Afghan women who later followed his example were even born. Most of them had probably never heard of the burning Buddhist monk, of the way pictures of his spectacular protest made the then US president, John F Kennedy, famously shriek "Jesus Christ!", or of the way, as some say, his self-immolation speeded up the downfall of the regime against which the monk was protesting.

His death triggered many questions and interpretations. In the words of one commentator at the time: "To set oneself on fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance." Thinking of the Afghan women who set light to themselves, just what is this thing of utmost importance that they are trying to say? Since March 2008, there have been a hundred cases of self-immolation in southwestern Afghanistan alone; 100 women who got hold of fuel, soaked themselves in the liquid and lit the match to stage a small-scale domestic revolution of a spectacular nature. If they wanted to say something, they wanted to say it with vehemence. If they wanted to leave this world, they didn't want to leave quietly. But what is their motivation? And who or what is the subject of their protest?

Unlike the burning monk, who wrote down all his hopes, wishes and complaints prior to his death, little is known about what motivates the Afghan women. Few of them survive to tell the tale and those who do survive are unwilling to talk. Afghan documentary film maker Olga Sadat spent months at a hospital which specialises in treating burns. She waited patiently but persistently to win the trust of the women she interviewed for her film Yak, Do, Seh (One, Two, Three). The film is a documentary cautionary tale the aim of which is to discourage self-immolation. In an interview with Germany's Deutsche Welle international radio, Sadat said,

Unfortunately, in the eight months that I was working on the film, only one of the many women who had set themselves on fire and were brought to the hospital managed to survive. But even that woman is in a bad state.

The woman had set fire to herself in protest against maltreatment on the part of her husband.

Sadat told Deutsche Welle that she believes that the women who set themselves on fire are confident that someone will come to their rescue while they are in the process of catching fire. Those she did manage to interview for her film said that when they lit the match, their aim was not suicide. They just wanted the people who maltreated them to take notice of the suffering they had caused.

Forced marriages and maltreatment by husbands and fathers is often cited as the cause of the despair that leads women to use household fuel to set fire to themselves. But a closer look reveals a more complex picture.

Sometimes the protest is directed against other women, such as an unkind mother-in-law. Other times girls have set fire to themselves for the love of a man they could not marry. And then there's protest against institutions, like case of the woman in Laghman, northern Afghanistan, who came to the court hiding petrol under her burqa. She had petitioned for divorce and was awaiting the verdict when she set fire to herself.

Female drug addiction is an equally powerful trigger that has led to self-immolation in places like Ghore, in western Afghanistan. But the fact remains that the women themselves are usually silent on the meaning of their own suicides and the meaning of their acts remains essentially ambiguous.

In a recent statement, the Afghan women's affairs minister said:

As long as all individuals, but especially the families, fail to ensure women's social and human rights, it's impossible for the government or the related offices to have any notable success in reducing violence against women.

Other officials, like Sima Shir Mohammadi, the head of the women's affairs department in Herat, blame the war. They say violence stops government offices and aid agencies from reaching remote areas. That's why cases of self-immolation have fallen in the cities but increased in rural areas.

Earlier, in an interview with an Iranian feminist website, Shir Mohammadi said her department had worked hard to tackle the problem: "We had meetings with religious scholars and asked them to make use of religious texts, Qur'anic verses and the prophet's sayings in their Friday sermons and in radio and television speeches to tell the people in rural areas that suicide is not the solution." The clerics also tell worshippers that maltreatment of girls and women is not allowed in Islam. Both Shir Mohammadi and the women's affairs minister believe that the cooperation of religious scholars is essential in solving this problem. This society is traditional and the people respect the clerics and follow their advice.

Time will tell whether the preachers' message will prove effective and discourage women from resorting to fuel and matches to get their message across. What's certain is that the traditional path of "patience and forbearance" has lost its appeal to Afghan women.

Gate to the temple of Osun, Osogbo

Osun temple gates

Ore yê yê ô!

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, Osogbo, Nigeria

Bent double by age, the high-priestess of Nigeria's Yoruba spirit-world shuffles forward from under the trees, reaching out a white, blotchy hand in welcome.

Susanne Wenger and her adopted daughter Doyin Faniyi
Mrs Wenger resurrected the traditions of the river-god Osun

Half a lifetime ago, Susanne Wenger dedicated herself to reviving the traditions of the pre-Christian Yoruba gods, "the orishas", and left Austria to make Nigeria her home.

The frail 94-year-old artist, with one seeing eye, has been a driving force in Osogbo town, where she is in charge of the sacred grove, a place where spirits of the river and trees are said to live.

In an upstairs room of her house, surrounded by carved wooden figures of the gods, she receives well-wishers and devotees, who she blesses in fluent Yoruba.

When she arrived here, she found traditional culture in abeyance, all but destroyed by missionaries who branded it "black magic" or "juju", a word Mrs Wenger reviles.

Friends paint a picture of a dedicated, tough and far-sighted leader who has helped revive a culture thought destroyed by Christian and Muslim evangelists, and secured protection for one of the Yoruba tradition's most sacred sites.

But she is very humble about her achievements.

Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove Festival

"Osogbo is a creative place, it is that by itself, it didn't need me," she says.

Followers say she has channelled the river-god Osun into her body, learning the knowledge of pre-Christian deities like no other European has ever done.

Orisha worship is a controversial belief. In the past it involved human sacrifice and there are rumours that still happens at secret shrines elsewhere in the country.

Devotees of the orishas can worship either good or evil gods in order to get what they want.

But thanks to Mrs Wenger, the town's annual festival of Osun has grown in size and popularity and thousands of Yorubas come every August to renew their dedication to the river-god.


Mrs Wenger arrived in Nigeria in 1950 with her then husband, the linguist Ulli Beier and travelled widely in south-western Nigeria.

Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala
Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour
Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala

In 1957, she fell ill with tuberculosis in an epidemic in which many thousands died.

Friend Ajani Adigun Davies says Mrs Wenger believes the illness was a kind of sacrifice, in return for the knowledge she was receiving about the gods.

"The Yoruba beliefs all depend on sacrifice, that you must give something of value to get something of value, you must suffer pain to gain knowledge," he says.

In her early years in Nigeria she met Adjagemo, a high-priest of creator-god Obatala.

"He took me by the hand and led me into the spirit world," Mrs Wenger told a French documentary maker in 2005.

"I did not speak Yoruba, and he did not speak English, our only intercourse was the language of the trees."

She divorced her husband and moved in with Adjagemo in Osogbo, where she resolved to live for the rest of her life.

Mrs Wenger believes that the spirit world has long been neglected by Western culture, and spirits can appear to anyone as long as they are willing to accept them.

"You need special eyes to see them," she says.


Enemies in churches and mosques have tried to smash her sculptures of deities and burn down the forest that shelters them.

But artist Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala, Mrs Wenger's adopted son, says many local people accepted her eagerly.

Ajani Adigun Davies
Susanne's knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now
Former curator Ajani Adigun Davies

"Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour," says Mr Ajala, now the high-priest of Sango, the lightning-god.

"Was Christ an African? Muhammad was an Arabian. Why can't our saviour be European?"

The first time he met her was the day of his initiation into the cult of Sango, when he was 11.

His father was an unapologetic devotee of the old gods, and refused to let his child be baptised or go to schools run by Christians or Muslims.

But Mr Ajala wanted to learn to read, and he thought a white woman would let him.

"I saw some children reading books, and I wanted to be able to go to school to read these stories."

But six months after he moved in with Mrs Wenger, he asked her if he could go to school.

"She shouted: 'No! you cannot go to school, they will turn you into a Christian and your life will be over!'" he remembers.

Mr Ajala is still illiterate, but has a deep knowledge about the traditions of Yoruba spirit gods and says his adopted mother has made him see how important it is that Yoruba traditions have been preserved.

Yet he is now working to build a school where children can go and receive an education and also learn about the traditions of the orishas.

'Tug of war'

Mrs Wenger's ideas about the preservation of the forest have become central to the survival of the traditional beliefs.

Mr Adigun Davies, a former curator with the government museums directorate who first met Mrs Wenger in 1989, says the battle to save the grove was a "tug of war".

He recalls her lying down in the path of a bulldozer brought by a man who bought the grove from a relative of a traditional leader and wanted to build a house on the land.

"It's a disgrace to the Yoruba that the person who came to save our culture was a European," he says.

"But Susanne's knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now."

Ajani Adigun Davies explains what happens at the Osogbo festival

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

NY Times: As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen

Published: September 9, 2008
The personality gap among the genders seems to be widening in modern society.

"The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge."


More on Palin: "heartbeat away from...turning America into an ultra-rightwing Christian nation"

Sarah Palin: A Gidget for God's Truth

by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. (Photo: Getty Images)

"The Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation," declared John McCain back in September 2007. With his vice-presidential pick of Governor Sarah Palin, he has found a winsome soul mate who is even more of a Christian nationalist, eager to use government to impose her religious views on the rest of us.

Palin's stance on abortion illustrates her approach. As she proudly declares, she sees the Bible as literally true, which leads her to believe that aborting a fetus is murder. That position contradicts our long history of common and statutory law. She then goes on to conclude that government should severely punish anyone who has an abortion or performs one, even in the case of rape or incest. She also opposes stem cell research.

Also see:
Steve Weissman |
America's Religious Right: Saints or Subversives?

McCain hears God less extremely, but the Republican platform echoes Palin, and if she ever became president, she would feel completely justified in making her religious belief a litmus test for appointees to the Supreme Court.

Her attitude toward gays and lesbians is similar, though observers in both the gay press and corporate media have misrepresented the firmness of her convictions. The confusion stems from a legal suit that some same-sex couples filed in 1999, arguing that Alaska had no right to deny domestic partners of state employees the same health and pension benefits that the state gave to married spouses. The case made its way to Alaska's Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 that the state could not discriminate against the domestic partners.

In the political firestorm that followed, the Alaska legislature passed a bill forbidding state officials to pay the benefits. Alaska's attorney general then declared the bill unconstitutional, and the newly inaugurated Governor Palin felt legally obliged to veto it. But, she loudly proclaimed her opposition to spousal benefits for domestic partners and signed a separate bill calling for a state referendum, which she said would lay the groundwork for overturning the state Supreme Court ruling.

She also declared her long-time opposition to same-sex marriage, a position she had displayed as early as 1998 when she enthusiastically backed a constitutional amendment to ban the practice in Alaska.

"I believe that honoring the family structure is that important," she told the Anchorage Daily News in 2006. She was "not out to judge anyone and has good friends who are gay." But, she explained, her opposition grew out of her strong religious views.

Palin's religious convictions, and her willingness to use the power of government to force them on others, has won strong backing from far-right groups, such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, and the Council for National Policy, the normally secretive network of right-wing preachers, political operatives, and fat cats who have been a major force in the Republican Party ever since they backed Ronald Reagan for president.

These overlapping groups view homosexual acts as "an abomination" and have led the fight against what Dr. Dobson calls "the radical Homosexual agenda." Focus on the Family will soon bring to Anchorage a conference on "curing homosexuality" through the power of prayer, an event that Palin's hometown church in Wasilla is actively promoting.

In the same vein, Palin has opposed extending hate crime laws to protect gays and lesbians, called for teaching creationism in public schools, and - as mayor of Wasilla - looked into banning books from the public library because they contained inappropriate language.

She described the building of a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in Alaska as "God's will," which she would work to carry out as governor.

She supports the presence of US troops in Iraq as a "task that is from God."

And she has told colleagues that Christ will return within her lifetime, which raises questions about what sort of Armageddon she has in mind.

However absurd one finds all this, Palin's religious convictions should normally remain her own private concern. But her eagerness to use public office to enforce and implement what she believes makes her beliefs a matter of enormous public importance.

If you don't believe me, just listen to the enormous support Palin is receiving from Dr. Dobson, "End Time" author Tim La Haye, and others on the Christian right. Dobson once swore he would never vote for John McCain. He now calls McCain's choice of Palin "outstanding" and is promising his enthusiastic support.

Sarah Palin is their gal, and if she is elected vice president, these warriors of God could find themselves only a heartbeat away from their long-held goal of turning America into an ultra-rightwing Christian nation.